It’s no longer feasible to run a business, even a brick-and-mortar one, without a web presence. Consumers turn to the internet for everything, from product research to company location and operating hours. Even a simple, well-designed website can give you an edge in your field and if you have products to sell, your site can open up new markets and expand your business cheaply and easily.
Website design software has evolved to be easy for anyone to use. You don’t need to know coding to develop an attractive and functional site. No matter what program you use, you need to follow some basic rules and tips to give your website a professional look, make it easy to find and show your company in the best light.
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Here’s our step-by-step guide to creating a successful business website.
A business website generally serves as a space to provide general information about your company or it may function as a direct platform for e-commerce so you can sell online. Whether you create a simple site that tells consumers a little about your business or a more complex offering for online shopping, the most important thing you must do is say what your company does right on the homepage in plain terms. Don’t make customers root around to discover if your enterprise can do what they need, said Erin Pheil, founder of The MindFix Group and the website design company formerly known as Followbright.
“Think about your specific user experience and the journey the user will go through as they navigate your site,” said Gabriel Shaoolian, CEO and founder of Digital Silk. “Whatever the fundamental goal of your website is or whatever the focus may be, users should be easily able to achieve it and the goal itself should be reinforced as users navigate throughout your site.”
If you don’t plan to accept payments like Apple Pay through your website, you won’t have as much work to do in setting it up. However, if you’re a retailer or service provider and want to offer customers the option to pay online, you’ll need to use an external service to receive your payments, which we’ll discuss later in this article.
Your domain name is one of the most critical features of your website. It’s the URL you’ll share with your current and potential clients and promote on social media. Therefore, you want it to be descriptive and easy to remember and type into a web browser. Try to keep it short and steer clear of abbreviations, acronyms and numbers, if possible, to avoid customer confusion.
You also need to decide your top-level domain (TLD). This is the suffix at the end of your domain name, such as .com, .net or .biz. However, nontraditional TLD names have grown in recent years. These TLDs can be based on location, such as .nyc, or type of business, such as .marketing, .agency or .law. While these can be descriptive, .com is still the main go-to.
Once you’ve selected your domain name, you’ll need to confirm its availability and purchase it through a domain registrar. These are some popular domain registrars.
As you select your new domain name, check copyrights to make sure you’re not infringing on anyone else’s protected name. If your preferred URL is already taken, you can call the company using it and ask to buy it from them or use a domain-buying service from a company like GoDaddy, which will reach out to the owners of your desired domain name. This service costs around $70 per domain, plus commission for their services.
Your domain name, also known as your URL, is how users will find your website, so choose something related to your business or services.
Every website needs a host — a server where all its data is stored for the public to access at all times. Hosting your own website is probably too large an expense for your small business, so you’ll need to select an external host.
Depending on your business’s budget, you can choose from two different routes. A shared web host, the less-expensive option, means you’ll share a server with other sites. The other option, dedicated hosting, costs significantly more, but it means you get your own private server and won’t have to compete with other sites that could drag down your website’s speed. Some web builder platforms, such as Squarespace and Wix, include web hosting in their monthly packages.
These are some notable providers for web hosting services:
If you’re looking for free hosting options, it’s crucial to remember that hosting a website is by no means free for the hosting company. Therefore, they may employ other methods, such as placing banner ads on your website, to compensate for the free hosting.
When choosing a host, consider how well the vendor can answer questions about its server locations and reliability, said Jim Cowie, co-founder of DeepMacro and former chief scientist at cloud-based internet performance company Dyn.
“It’s good to ask, ‘Can you show me how close you are to the major markets my customers are going to be in?’” Cowie said. “Any good hosting provider should have the tools to show you … measurements of their performance.”
As your business grows, you may find that you need to upgrade to a different web host or even work with multiple providers to handle your website traffic and operations. Cowie advised keeping a close eye on your site performance and the experience your customers have using your website so you can determine your hosting needs. [Related article: The Best Web Hosting Services]
A good website is more than a static homepage. Using platforms like WordPress, Wix or Squarespace, you’ll want to create multiple pages dedicated to different aspects of your business, such as a detailed catalog of your products or services or a blog section for company updates. As for your overall website, make sure each page supports the site’s primary goal, has a clear purpose and includes a call to action (CTA), such as “Learn More,” “Sign Up,” “Contact Us” or “Buy This,” that leads the user somewhere.
A contact page, your customers’ direct link to you, is one of the most vital sections of a website, so include as much information as you can (your business’s phone number, email address and physical location, if you have one). It’s also a good idea to include information about the founding team or staff on an “About” page so customers can put real names and faces to your brand.
If your business doesn’t already have a logo, hire a graphic designer or create a logo yourself to use on your website, business cards and social media profiles. A cohesive brand image will help your clients identify your company quickly and easily on the web.
Justin Zalewski, senior user experience manager at Evernorth Health Services, offered a few basic tips to help you create efficient, content-rich pages for your website:
While this step won’t apply to all business websites, companies that want to offer the option for customers to pay online will need to integrate electronic payment systems with their sites. The easiest way to do this is through e-commerce software or by employing one of the best credit card processing solutions.
Also, many web hosts offer an in-house shopping cart or integrate with e-commerce programs. Do some research to make sure you get a solution that’s easy to work with and flexible enough to meet your needs now and in the future.
Before announcing your site is live on the web, make sure it works on all major browsers, such as Microsoft Edge, Firefox, Safari and Chrome. Click through each page and feature on every browser to ensure images show up, links are correct and the format looks smooth. This will take some time, but the effort you put in now will save you future complaints from visitors who can’t access certain features. [Learn how to create an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant website.]
Also, make sure your website displays properly on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. This step should not be overlooked as Google and other search engines have migrated to mobile-first indexing, which prioritizes the performance of the mobile version of your website when it comes to search engine rankings.
Another important feature to incorporate from the very beginning is an analytics program. By setting this up before the website launches, you can iron out any issues and coordinate a proper setup, Shaoolian said. Once the website is live, you can monitor page performance and determine why a certain page is successful or unsuccessful based on the analytics.
“You can look at which of your marketing campaigns are showing the most conversions and examine any [user] metrics, such as city, browser, etc., to shed some light on how your audience is interacting with your site,” Shaoolian said. “If you … implement this [after] the site goes live, you’ll miss out on valuable data and have no way of seeing which elements of your site are successful or unsuccessful right from the start.”
Social media platforms, such as Facebook, X (formerly known as Twitter), LinkedIn and Pinterest, are the best way to increase your audience reach and alert customers to what’s going on with your company. Whenever you update your website, post about it on your social media accounts but balance those posts with genuine, nonpromotional engagement.
Also, include links to your social media profiles on your website. The most common places to do this are in the footer or the ancillary bar (the extra menu in the top-right that often holds login or contact links). Learn more about social media for business in our comprehensive guide.
Submitting your website to major search engines will help direct users to your page as will deploying a strong SEO strategy across your site. Shaoolian said that defining title tags, meta descriptions and uniform resource identifiers (URIs) that are relevant to your company and aspects of your industry can boost your rankings in search engines for the products or services you’re trying to market.
“Building relevant keywords into your content from the very first phases of your website and having a strong focus on SEO from website launch, will help you generate traffic early on,” he said.
As you build your business website, these important on-site SEO tactics can help you improve your ability to move up the ranks:
There are also off-site SEO tactics you can pursue, such as obtaining backlinks — links to your site from third-party web pages. This signals to search engines that your website is valuable and deserves to rank highly in search results.
Staying relevant is important, so update your website frequently with blog posts on current industry events, new products and offers and company news to keep visitors coming back to the site.
You should also check at least monthly to ensure your website software and all add-ons are up to date. Pheil said that if your software isn’t up to date, it’s in danger of being hacked, even if your web host’s security is strong. If you don’t have time to do this yourself, delegate the task to a trusted employee or a freelance website manager.
Starting a website for your business is a relatively low-cost investment that can help you establish credibility and reach a wider customer base than you ever could through traditional marketing techniques. If you keep your website updated with fresh, current content and are quick to address technical issues, you’ll never have to worry about “not existing” to your current and future clients.
Keep your site updated with fresh content and timely information to ensure it remains professional and top of mind for your audience.
The cost of a business website can range from a few hundred dollars for a simple design for a small business to $30,000 for an extensive custom website. The reason for such a wide range has to do with the type of business involved and the amount of work the business owner is willing to do themselves. The difference between taking your own pictures and hiring a photographer can be a few hundred dollars. The same can be said for professional copywriting for web content and so on.
Website creation can range from days to months but, if you’re looking for an average, we can turn to DreamHost, a leading web host provider for small businesses. The vendor says the typical website-building process runs between two and four months.
Every business website should include pertinent information like who you are, what you do and how you can be contacted. Your site should also include the products or services you offer and, if you sell online, an easy way for customers to make purchases through your website. Companies may also want to include mission statements, reviews, testimonials and a regularly updated blog that provides valuable information regarding the business and industry.
Website templates make it easy to design a sleek, visually appealing website with little to no graphic design or coding experience. To choose the right one, think about your goals and where they fall in the traditional marketing funnel. If your goal is to raise awareness about your brand, you’ll probably need a much simpler design than if you’re trying to lead customers toward an actual purchase. If you need something complex, such as a product page, hosting and software services, such as Wix offer online store templates.
After all this hard work building your website, you’ll want to know if it’s getting attention. Your web hosting service may offer basic analytics data, such as the number of visitors to your site. For a more detailed look at where your customers are spending time on your website, you may want to consider tools like Google Analytics. The data you’ll get from an external analytics platform can help you see how people are finding your website and track conversions.
Building a good website for your company can take time and effort, but it’s part of doing business in today’s digital-first world. That said, with so many affordable tools available, it’s easier than ever to build a well-designed site without coding experience. Get clarity on your business website goals, then pick a design that’s user-friendly for your customers. The time and money spent will be well worth it once your website is up and running.
Natalie Hamingson and Nicole Fallon contributed to this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.